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Why it’s financially worth the risk for MLB players to take performance-enhancing drugs

By , - Last modified: September 5, 2012 at 10:46 AM

Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera had been two of the more interesting stories in Major League Baseball this year.

Colon, 39, is a former Cy Young award winner who was making a remarkable comeback for his age and injury history. He made 24 starts with the Oakland A’s, compiling a 3.43 ERA, good enough for 25th best in the majors, only 0.01 behind Yankees star CC Sabathia.

Cabrera, just two years off of being cut by Atlanta, was leading the league in hits and had a .346 batting average for the San Francisco Giants. He was named an All Star and won All Star Game MVP.

Now both of them are remarkable for a different reason. In August, both players tested positive for testosterone and were suspended under Major League Baseball’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). With them, there are now 67 players the MLB has suspended since 2005 for use of performance enhancers.

Is it financially worth the risk to take performance-enhancing drugs? It might be.

One reason is baseball’s horrible record in catching offenders. MLB players usually are tested only twice per year — once in spring training and once randomly during the season. Testing usually doesn’t occur in the offseason.

The chances of being caught are very low.

Since testing began in 2005, there have been 30 teams per year with 25 active players on the roster. 750 active players over seven years is more than 5,000 player-years worth of time. And in that time only 67 players have tested positive for PEDs, or 1.2 percent of those who have played.

I don’t think any baseball fan would say that just 1.2 percent of players since 2005 have used PEDs.

Compare that testing policy to the NFL. The NFL tests 10 random players from each team in every week of the season. Players also can be randomly tested up to six times in the offseason.

The other reason is the reward.

Colon won the 2005 Cy Young award with the LA Angels, but injuries meant he would appear in only 48 games over the next four seasons. He did not play at all in 2010 due to injury.

And then, out of nowhere, a suddenly rejuvenated Colon signed a $900,000 contract with the Yankees in 2011 and went 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA. In 2012, Colon signed a $2 million deal with the Oakland A’s.

Cabrera’s risk/reward was even more extreme.

Two years ago, he didn’t have a team. This year, he was making $6 million and was on the verge of a huge free agent payday after this incredible season. The Giants were trying to extend his contract in an era that sees Jayson Werth get a deal valued at more than $120 million.

Say Cabrera’s contract could have been $75 million. Is that worth the odds of getting caught? Especially when cheating always will be scientifically ahead of testing?

The risk of getting caught and penalties don’t appear to offset the reward. Colon and Cabrera weren’t going to the Hall of Fame. They weren’t playing for legacies. They were playing to cash in.

How strong is a penalty if getting caught means you just go back to where you were before?

You’re a below-average player who knows your time and chances are running out. Do you take that risk to cash in?

Bill Sayer is a financial analyst in the insurance industry and holds a degree in economics. A native of Upstate New York, Bill enjoys watching college football, the NFL, NHL and Premier League soccer from his home in Palmyra. Have a suggestion, link or question?


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